Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Game play on gate led to 7-year-old's death, Tampa police say

TAMPA — It was supposed to be a game, a bit of fun before catching the school bus.

Early Wednesday, two little boys pushed 7-year-old Zhanaye Williams back and forth on their apartment complex's gate.

One was Zhanaye's 9-year-old brother, the other a neighbor boy, police said.

They didn't know the massive gate would fall on Zhanaye, police said Thursday, or that it would pin her beneath. They didn't know their game would be deadly.

An autopsy indicates Zhanaye died of head trauma.

The girl's mother and four siblings are staying with relatives. Coretta Williams doesn't want to return to her unit at Brookside Apartments, said her close friend Jessica Kinser, 33.

Williams doesn't want to drive past the fence where her daughter died.

"She's taking it hard," Kinser said, tearing up. "We all are."

On Thursday, Kinser blasted music inside her apartment, surrounded by memories of the young girl she often watched.

In one corner lay Zhanaye's smiling baby doll, dressed in a onesie that declares "Daddy loves me."

Across the room, a long black skirt reminded Kinser of Zhanaye's childish games. The night before her death, she wore it as a dress, cinched with a belt. She was playing princess.

She also left an old cash register at Kinser's apartment — one that she had pulled from the Dumpster to use as a toy. Kinser broke down when she saw the play money spread across the floor.

"She was a beautiful girl with a great heart," Kinser said. "And she was so smart."

Kinser's own daughter looked up to Zhanaye. She had lots of friends. By Thursday morning, counselors had helped 53 children at Riverhills Elementary.

Breaking the news of Zhanaye's death to a room full of second-graders was a challenge, said school psychologist Vito Ricciardi, who has worked on the crisis team for 28 years.

"They have difficulty conceptualizing the permanency of death," he said.

Some cried. Many drew pictures. A few children who had witnessed the accident were especially traumatized, Ricciardi said.

The giant gate is gone. A memorial of cards, balloons and stuffed animals now rests on the fence at Brookside Apartments, near the intersection of 50th Street and Busch Boulevard.

Apartment officials did not return requests for comment.

Records show Brookside is managed by Franklin Street Management and owned by Barfield Bay Holdings Inc., a Naples-based real estate company that has faced some financial problems in the past.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on its Brookside property in 2009, attributing its troubles partly to capital improvements, including repairs to its roofs, pool, landscaping, parking lots, laundry rooms and termite-damaged wood.

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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